The Drum Instructors Guide Part 3

LESSON #1: This is the biggie!


This is where we make it or break it!  The student is meeting you for the very first time. You need to blow their socks off right here or, lose them. This is the point where you do and say the things that will keep your students returning week after week, month after month, and year after year. Not only that! You'll want to blow them away so wildly that they'll bring their friends, and their friends-friends, to start lessons with you next week! This is where you do things in such a way that it gets people talking about you. There's no better advertising than 'word of mouth' advertising!

It will be easy and fun!  Here is what I do . . .

Take your place at the kit.  Begin with the student seated beside you. You'll be on the drum set.

START WITH A BRIEF TWO-MINUTE CHAT . . . It's probably best to begin with a little chat-session. Find out exactly what you need to know about the student. Sometimes you'll know at a glance, and sometimes you'll need to probe a little, to find out. It's important to know who you are dealing with before you devote a lot of time, saying all the wrong things, haha. Are you dealing with a beginner, intermediate, or advanced drummer? Find this out before you do anything. (Give the student a chance to say what they hope to accomplish, if they indicate that they are more advanced, and if they want to talk about those things.)

Ask if they've ever taken drum lessons before. Discover if they own, or have access to a drum set already? Ask how long they've had the set? Have they already learned to jam with 'some' recordings already?

NOTE: If they are jamming with recordings already, it's an indicator that they aren't a beginner, and you may need to approach the lesson from their (more advanced) perspectives.

Do all this quickly! You're on the clock! But, do get to know your student at least little before you begin.

Hopefully, your first students will be total beginners who have recently purchased a drum set. Hopefully, they'll want to start from scratch.

Depending on their responses to the questions above, you'll have a pretty good idea as to what they need to learn, and what you should do next.

If you are dealing with a total beginner, it will be easy. This will be a typical first lesson, and you'll proceed something like I'll describe below. If your student is already somewhat advanced, you will need to take a different approach. (We'll deal with those types a little further on in this E-book.)

Once you have their complete attention . . . jump in with gusto.  In this lesson you want to give the student a quick (5 or 10 minute) overview of EVERYTHING they will learn from you. In essence it is simply a table of contents.  Show them a quick summary of the different levels and lessons. 

You could almost recite, as you play, all the topics on my 'Lesson Menus', to get the needed effect. That's the way I do it. You will be playing many of the beats and rolls, as you talk. DO YOUR OWN THING, HERE: Omit any licks or tricks that you do not play well. Show them only the things you are good at doing, and keep it moving fast . . . like a little show.

It will be much easier if you just do your own thing. Do a mental outline of everything you'll be teaching the student in all the future lessons. Show them bits and pieces of everything they'll need to learn, in order to become the drummer they want to become. You'll get really good at all this after you've thought about it awhile, and done it a few times. This lesson will probably become your favorite lesson of all, eventually.

This is about the only time I ever show-off in front of the student. It's 'cool' to do it all like a little show! Play your best licks and tricks, explaining how it will all be covered in upcoming lessons. I feel it's important for the teacher to impress the student with some 'pazazz' at this point. Make them say, "Wow!"

After all . . . if the student gets the impression the teacher can't play, it'll definitely work against the teacher. Blow their socks off, while talking about techniques and lessons at the same time. This is the one time it's acceptable, and probably advisable, to do that. Don't over-do it, but do try to go through everything you hope to eventually teach them, and do it within five or ten minutes of this first lesson.

You're on the clock here! You want this student to leave with the ability to play more than 50,000,000, 8th rock tunes, if all goes well. If you are to accomplish such a totally amazing result on this first lesson, you'll have to hurry along at a pretty good clip.

      WHAT TO SAY AND PLAY . . .

  • 1.  Begin with the importance of the Basic Dance Beats.

  • 2.  Show how we attach rudimental fills to the beats . . .

  • 3.  Explain and demonstrate the way variations work within each of the Basic Dance Beat structures (ie; 16th rock, Blues, 8th rock, Shuffle, and quarter rock.) Introduce the word 'Permutation' and what it means. (ie; It means variations and/or syncopations.)

  • 4.  Tell them how you will teach them to improvise or create their own solos using the beats and rolls that are taught within the course. Play an impressive little (short) solo, if you're good at soloing. Show how the various roll patterns they'll be learning, will eventually turn up in their own improvised (made-up) solos.

  • 5. LATIN RHYTHMS? Show them the ones you are best at playing.

  • 6.  Sum everything up with explanations of how they will walk away with knowledge of EVERY beat pattern that exists in every time signature. (All that is covered totally within the 'Finite to Infinity' e-book.) You'll be needing that knowledge, if you don't have it already. It's going to later prove to be your ace-in-the-hole, as you encounter the occasional heavy-weight drum students. Get it now and study it, if you haven't already.

As you run through this first lesson routine . . . be sure to incorporate the beats and fills YOU CAN PLAY MOST IMPRESSIVELY. You need to knock their lights out right here and now.  You want them to leave with the impression that you are the one and only teacher for them.  It's a show!  If you play professionally, you know the value of showmanship. It goes with this particular gig too!  If we blow them away right here . . . we'll have a student for life.

After a few times through, you will get this 1st lesson routine down pat and it will flow naturally.  It will quickly become the easiest and most fun lesson of all to teach.

That was the first half of Lesson #1
Now, let's finish it off. We're 15-minutes into a 30-minute lesson and there's still a heck of a lot to say and do.

Next . . . familiarize the student with all important parts of the kit.  Quickly explain different seating arrangements and the difference between using a toe-kick or heel-down method of attacking the pedals. I always let the student choose the attack that works best for them. Arguments may abound over this but I'm totally convinced that one is as good as the other. The important thing is what the student thinks, AFTER they've experimented both ways. Encourage them to experiment with both attack methods at home. Tell them to ask questions about it the following week if they are encountering any problems, after a week of experimentation.

Keep it brief, and keep it moving. If the student stops you at any point, just answer their questions quickly and move on. The idea is to get them playing the 8th rock beat along with a song (if possible) before this lesson ends . . . and you'll also be needing to show them the whole thing on paper, in note form.




I start a lot of students who begin with nothing. It's means that the lessons may go a bit slower for them, but success will just take a little longer, that's all. Show your student how to simulate a drum set, tapping on any near-by objects, while patting there foot in simulation of the bass drum. Take care to be sure they know exactly how to do this effectively. Have them practice the first beats or rolls in this way, as you watch. Instruct, and help them with it, if necessary. Also print out the makdrums.html lesson. It's found on Lesson Menu #1. Look for the lesson entitled, 'The World's Cheapest Drumset'.



If your student turns out to be a south paw, you'll need to be ready.  Encourage them to play the kit as a left hander on a right handed kit . . . like Carter Beauford, with The Dave Matthews band.  Explain why!

See, the following lesson if you are in doubt . . .

Sticks, Pedals and Southpaws.

Moving drums around will cost them plenty of gigs later in life . . . While the 'Left-hand-on-the-hi-hat' method is just as easy for a southpaw, it will result in giving the southpaw a psychological edge over all right-handed drummers.  Carter Beauford wasn't #1 in 1997 because he is so great . . . It is that left handed style!  That style blows the minds of all right-handed drummers because most of us, can't do it.  It leaves us in awe and loaded with respect.  Check out Carter Beauford by the way!

I have practiced that (backwards method) enough to get a southpaw started playing that way . . . I leave them to do their own conversions as the techniques become more and more difficult.

Southpaw students can be a real challenge for us right handed teachers but it also gives us a chance to view the World from the other side.  I like teaching lefties because I would like to master that style myself.  Hmmmm . . . maybe in the next life!

TRADITIONAL vs MATCH GRIP: Methods of holding the sticks.
Again, I encourage the match grip unless the student tells me they plan to be marching up and down the street with a snare drum over their shoulder, the rest of their life.

At that point . . . As soon as I hear them say that . . . I just run from the building, screaming at the top of my lungs. I find the tallest tree outside, and climb all the way to the top, while daring the nice people with butterfly nets, to follow me, hahahahahahahaa!

(Oops! Sorry! I lost it there for a second, haha. Let's move on . . .)



Move off the kit and quickly explain both the 'traditional' and 'match grip' methods of holding the sticks.  I tend to focus on the 'match grip' . . . Explaining to the student that they want to imagine driving a nail into the drum head . . . Using the stick just like a hammer.  They'll grab both sticks the same way. The way they'll grip both sticks, should match identically.  It's exactly the same for each hand. That's why we call it the 'match grip'.

At that point I ask the student to hold out their hands with open palms.  I drop the sticks into their hands in just the right way (ie; Match-grip), and tell them to have a seat at the kit. 

Once they are seated comfortably and any small adjustments have been made . . . I start them with Basic Dance Beat #3. It's the most important beat of the 20th century, (8th Rock.)  If we can get the student playing this beat before the end of the lesson, there will be a very good chance that by next week, this same student will have gained the ability to play along with more than 50,000,000 songs, WITH JUST ONE LESSON!

If we can take a student this far in the very first lesson . . . it's the sort of thing that makes people talk! Word of mouth is the best advertising we can get! As a kid goes back to school, showing their friends how much they learned in just one lesson, it can create a snowball effect. It can cause an avalanche of students to want your services. Before long, half your students friends, will also be taking lessons from you.

We start with four simple notes on the cymbal, then gradually add the bass along with the first cymbal for awhile. When they are comfortable and ready, we begin adding the snare . . . you'll have no problem with this.  But, keep a gun and a dagger handy, in case you decide to commit suicide, haha.

Just use common sense, don't show anxiety, and be patient. Leave the room at this point if you have to.  If the student understands the project at hand . . . it's best to leave them alone and let them work out the kinks.  It is amazing how the human mind can do all that so well on its own. Sometimes, if we teachers try to coach too much, it only frustrates and confuses the student. There are times when our silence can be golden. If the student knows what they are trying to do, it may be best for us to shut-up and get the heck out of the way. Leave the room and go prepare a printout of the lesson, or something. Give your student a little time to learn, and a little time to think for themselves. They'll probably be playing like a pro by the time you return. Just be SURE they know what to practice . . . then leave for a few minutes.

Well, that's about it . . . if there is any time remaining and if the student does pretty well with the aptitude test, we may try playing along with a slow 8th rock tune.  If the student can do it, instruct them to try playing every song they hear on the radio all week.  If not, explain that it takes time and practice. Instruct them to listen for this new beat and 'think' about playing along with every song on the radio.  Most will come back doing it, by the next lesson.

Show them the printed lesson, explain it, get them to play the pattern as they look at it on paper, then send them on their way.

Kaching! Ring-up another $20, and call-in the next student!

Lessons #2, #3, #4 and all the rest depend on the student. I normally try to get them jamming with music immediately, using the 8th rock beat first. With that accomplished we move on through the Basic Dance Beats slowly (depending on the student), from 16th Rock through Quarter Rock. As I teach a student each new beat structure or roll pattern, I try to have a CD handy, and we always try to do it along with a song.

At this point the student is equipped to play virtually ANY song on the radio (we hope.)  Then we begin with Fills, and follow through 'pretty much' in the order they fall within my course. Almost every lesson in the course has been designed to be adaptable to the music we hear around us every day. Much of your lesson time each week can be devoted adapting the latest lesson to a recorded song.

It's best to have the students bring their own favorite CDs to class too. That way, we can listen to their music and show them the various places the previously studied lessons may be adapted to THEIR music.


I don't always follow the exact same order with the lessons, even as I'm teaching my own course to my own private students. So, you shouldn't feel a need to do that either. Your students and THEIR SPECIFIC INTERESTS are paramount, here. Do whatever it takes to keep them happy.

I do teach the 8th rock beat to all beginning students, first. After that, I try to feel-out the student's wishes and interests. If THEY want to learn rolls and fills first, we do that. It's best to put them in control, and let them remain in control. We'll eventually cover all the bases, if they continue to come in for lessons every week. Just work your way through all the lessons in my course, but give your students the option to pick and choose which lesson seems more interesting to them as an individual, at the moment. If they prefer to study 8th rock variations and syncopations first, I go in that direction, until they cry "uncle", then we find a different challenge.

Occasionally, some eager students may want to pursue lessons that I might feel are too advanced for them. It happens! Again, I prefer to err on the side of the students interests. If they want a lesson that's over their head, I either lead them in that direction as quickly as possible, or we may take a related and similar (preparatory) lesson or two, first. (It depends on both, the student and the desired lesson material.) We'll either take a stab at that lesson directly, or if I'm certain they need a preparatory lesson, we may do a preparatory lesson or two, before studying the advanced material. At any rate, it's VERY important to (at least) aim the student in the direction they want to go. Just do it! Don't argue, haha! Most of the truly eager students may surprise you and themselves as well. They'll often work MUCH harder to achieve the results they are wanting to achieve. If they succeed, you may see that student progress at twice the normal rate.

Sometimes I skip over the double stroke fill until MUCH later, . . . unless the student is in grade-school or high-school band. (The band directors may require them to master double-strokes as a matter of teaching tradition that goes back to the 1930s.) If the student needs the double-stroke in order to get good grades in school band, I try to give it priority, in order to keep the band directors happy. After all . . . if the band directors like and approve of our teaching methods, they'll be more likely to send us students every year. So . . . their opinions count!

Doubles just aren't used as often in todays rock styles.  In the 1930s, according to the N.A.R.D, the double stroke roll was the #1 roll. It has slipped in importance since the 1930s! Music and drumming styles have changed a lot since then.

The single stroke, paradiddle and triplet rolls have all seemed to bump the double stroke down to about 4th place, in recent years. I simply place the focus on the simplest and most important material first, then work slowly towards the more difficult, but less popular techniques, as the weeks turn into months.

If you can take one or two free students this far, you will be ready to hang out your shingle, place a few ads, and start charging money.

Next . . . We'll deal with the Daily Routine: How to handle the average follow-up lessons, with each student for weeks and months to come.


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